Many of us have heard what's going on at the infamous site of Chernobyl or, more so, the abandoned city of Pripyat since the HBO show bearing the same name premiered. Many are flocking to the site of the atomic disaster to see if it really does exist, but in all the tourist chaos, many forget that this is an actual atomic wasteland.
Visiting sites that were once a victim to atomic incidents or warfare is called atomic tourism, and it draws out many travelers from around the world. While it can be fascinating to learn about radiation and how it can singlehandedly destroy a city, there are some rules to follow during the visit. For the sake of the site, the tour guides, and the safety of everyone in the tour group, here are some key things to realize.
10 Above All, Be Respectful... These Aren't 'Fun' Vacation Destinations
Whether it's an actual atomic site or an atomic museum, it's important to remember that this isn't a fun spring break trip. Many work long and tough hours to guide visitors through what's not always a cheerful location, and this is a good thing to keep in mind.
Additionally, some may have even lost their lives before these locations were abandoned; therefore, showing respect is of the utmost importance. When visiting a museum, think middle school field trips. Silence is best, asking questions is permitted, and a solemn attitude is the safest behavior.
9 A Gieger Counter Might Be A Smart Investment
Some sites do offer Gieger counter rentals, and it's never a bad idea to invest in one. The tour guides will explain how to use them and what their purpose is. In short, a Geiger counter measures the level of active radiation via gamma, x-ray, alpha, and/or beta radiation. This will take into account the counts per minute of the radiation level and alert the user as to when counts are too high, or at a safe, low level.
For the most part, the atomic sites that are open to the public have been cleared by a team of experts and deemed safe. It's likely that travelers will be exposed to more radiation on their plane ride than via the actual site.
8 Each Site Has Its Own Disaster Level Rating
Just as with weather anomalies, each atomic incident will merit its own disaster level rating. For comparison, Chernobyl is classified as a level 7 on the International Nuclear Even Scale, which is the highest mark possible. This scale measures atomic levels by both 'incident' as well as 'accident,' and then the determination is made based on how much destruction it left post-event.
The scale covers anything from 'anomaly' (the lowest) to 'major accident.' The Three Mile Island accident was classified as a level 5 with 'wider consequences,' some unknown. Lastly, The Blayais Nuclear Power Plant flood in France in 1999 was classified as a level 2, or simply just 'incident.'
7 Be Sure Wash Your Hands & Avoid Touching Your Face
It should go without saying, but just because a site has been deemed safe for walking doesn't mean it doesn't still contain radiation. It takes an extraordinarily long time for radiation to be broken down enough where land is completely useable, and many sites still show minimal signs of it.
Because of this, it's not smart to eat or drink anything while visiting atomic sites (unless told otherwise). Additionally, if anything is touched, visitors should wash their hands as soon as they have the chance before moving on. Don't touch your face or anyone else if you've been hands-on in an active area.
6 Taking Anything From The Atomic Sites Is Prohibited
In keeping with the realization of radiation, the ground isn't the only thing that's affected. Radiation sees no boundaries and, simply put, affects everything within its path. That means any type of objects can be affected by it and can give off radiation.
Many things found on atomic sites may still have radioactive properties despite the fact that decades have gone by, so it's smart to avoid taking anything. Not to mention, it's also against the rules in most all places—taking things away from the site of a major disaster is not recommended, atomic or otherwise.
5 You Should Ask Questions
While it's good to remember to respect the site and all those involved, it's okay to ask some questions. Most people are there to learn and the only way that happens is by seeking out answers to some questions you might have.
As long as the questions themselves are respectful and reasonable, there's no reason to avoid asking them. While a tour guide is there to ensure the safety of all tour participants, they're also there as a wealth of knowledge. If anyone has the answers, it's them—so ask away!
4 Understand The Unspoken Rules Behind Urbex
Urbex is a term for 'urban exploration.' This is usually limited to exploration that occurs on sites that not many visit, or locations that are often off the beaten path. This can also be applied to atomic tourism since not many (until now) are hustling to get inside a nuclear city.
There are rules behind urbex, though, and they should always be followed. Always be prepared, mainly because many of these sites are far from amenities and other people. Be respectful to the site itself and avoid damaging it even further, as it's likely nature has already run its course.
3 Dress For The Activity: Heavy-Duty Boots, Long Clothing, Protective Headwear If Required
You might be dealing with crumbling buildings, uneven terrain, or even structures that are on the verge of collapse. For these reasons, it's important to maintain a level of safety when exploring atomic sites. Just because the area has been declared safe as far as radiation levels go doesn't mean the structures on the site are safe.
In the age of social media, everyone is striving for that one great photo op. While atomic tourism has no room for tourists and their egos, risking one's life to stand atop a crumbling roof is never the best idea.
2 Plan Your Trip Wisely & Stay Hydrated
While you might not be able to eat or drink while on-site, it's a good idea to bring snacks and water with you for once you've left the area. Tours vary in length with some being longer than others, and if you're unsure, it's better to pack smart.
Bring a backpack that can be easily cleaned (clear backpacks work well, especially when subject to search) and fill it with only the essentials. You never realize how dehydrated you are after you've walked four miles and have no water on-hand.
1 Know Before You Go: Understand The History
Most importantly, know a little about the location before you go. A major part of atomic tourism is being aware of what you're walking into. Knowing the history of a disaster site can keep ignorance at bay while also giving tourists an appreciation for guided tours.
Even knowing just the basics will help, as you won't be totally lost when your tour guide begins explaining what took place in the spot you'll be standing. This will also help you to be emotionally prepared, as many don't realize right away how massive the scale of disaster can be.